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Jesuit aims to stem decline of faith with launch of catechetical website

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By Maureen Pratt

ANAHEIM, Calif. (CNS) -- Jesuit Father Robert J. Spitzer, former president of Gonzaga University, launched a cutting-edge catechetical website to confront the rising tide of unbelief spurred by an increasingly skeptical, science-saturated society.

Developed through Father Spitzer's Magis Center, based in Garden Grove, Credible Catholic offers 20 downloadable "modules" that equip Magis Center learners with evidence-based arguments for core Christian beliefs. The catechetical website is www.CredibleCatholic.com.

"The Credible Catholic modules correspond to fundamental apologetics in light of modern scientific methods," said Father Spitzer, author and co-host of the Eternal Word Television Network program, "Father Spitzer's Universe."

"For example, I approach the Resurrection through evidence, but I respond to every Scripture passage, too," he said in an interview with Catholic News Service.

Each module is available in animated PowerPoint or document format in three levels of complexity, from highly detailed to a "Cliff Notes" version, with a separate teaching.

Interactive resources on the website include a robust search engine for navigation to key words or phrases, and a "contact us" click-through to enable direct contact with Credible Catholic staff. The modules, downloadable files and all supporting resources, including Magis Center staff support, are free.

Based on Father Spitzer's books and other work in apologetics, modules include contributions from astrophysicists, historians, theologians, physicists, and other experts. Each module aligns with specific sections of The Catechism of the Catholic Church, so it can easily be used to supplement sacrament preparation or for individual study.

Father Spitzer's foray into a multidisciplinary catechetical website sprung from his growing concern that religious affiliation is declining, due in large part, he believes, to the influence, particularly on youth, of "secular myths that misstate and/or misrepresent the facts."

These myths include "science has proven God does not exist," "humans are just a bunch of conglomerated atoms and molecules," "suffering proves God does not exist," and Jesus was "a very special person but he certainly was not divine."

Older Catholics can find these arguments challenging, but particularly vulnerable, Father Spitzer said, are many young people whose faith is tremendously shaken or dissipates when confronted with the stresses of academic and peer pressures.

The Credible Catholic's "7 Essential Modules," the first modules developed by Father Spitzer, give students and catechists tools to meet the challenges of skeptics. They cover core Christian beliefs and offer science-based evidence to support them.

"Kids demand proof," said the priest. "The more validated it is, the more they like it. '7 Essential Modules' is the inoculation that we give to students so they can go through their college years without getting their faith knocked out from under them."

A discussion of terminal lucidity, for example, is included in the module regarding proof of the soul. In another, research in Near Death Experiences, or NDEs, help illuminate the reality of life after death. And an explanation of the physical properties of light and heat transference is used to explain how the image on the Shroud of Turin could not have been humanly possible at the time it was made.

Anne Steinemann, professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Melbourne, Australia, an early supporter of Credible Catholic, has seen the positive impact Credible Catholic has on students.

"Science can explain 'what,'" Steinemann told CNS, "but it cannot answer the question, 'Why?' Credible Catholic is effective, easy and exciting. It answers, head on, the typical objections to the Catholic faith."

The modules' format also helps facilitate learning.

"Students," said Steinemann, "can view the presentations on their own time, on their own device, in their own way. In the age of information overload, and trying to get students' attention, this does."

Michael O'Hara, executive director for Credible Catholic, works with teachers, clergy and staff of dioceses and parishes to understand how the unique material can work with existing ministries, departments or catechetical classes.

"Most parishes are 'programmed out,' but this isn't a program," said O'Hara. "A school in Texas might use Module 2 in their science class. Another parish did the modules for homework, a summer study or journaled on it."

Parents benefit from the modules' content, too.

"The problem for the parent," said O'Hara, "is that their kids are growing up in a world unlike anything that they grew up in. They don't have a counter to the arguments. The modules help the parent cope, and help them feel confident to counter the arguments."

In November 2017, Father Spitzer and his team from Magis Center debuted "7 Essential Modules" at an event attended by U.S. Cardinal William J. Levada, retired head of the Vatican's doctrinal congregation, and 34 other U.S. Catholic bishops.

In June of this year, the priest presented the modules to 75 archbishops and bishops during the spring assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Florida. He now has 80 dioceses lined to use the modules in their religious education or sacrament preparation programs, or as independent study add-ons.

Father Spitzer also plans to continue adding modules, eventually covering all of the catechism.

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Editor's Note: The Credible Catholic modules and a link to sign up for updates or staff support can be found at www.crediblecatholic.com. The website for Father Spitzer's Magis Center is www.magiscenter.com.

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Nicaraguan bishops to pray for exorcism as violence continues

IMAGE: CNS photo/Oswaldo Rivas, Reuters

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MANAGUA, Nicaragua (CNS) -- As attacks on Catholic clergy continue and anti-government protesters are besieged by Nicaraguan police and paramilitaries, the bishops said they would pray an exorcism prayer.

The bishops said July 20 would be a day of prayer and fasting "as an act of atonement for the profanation carried out in recent months against God." On that day, "We will pray the prayer of exorcism to St. Michael Archangel."

On July 15, the vehicle of Bishop Juan Mata Guevara of Esteli was shot as he traveled to the city of Nindiri, where he had hoped to stop an attack by police and paramilitaries. The bishop escaped unharmed but the vehicle's tires were shot out and windows broken, said Father Victor Rivas, executive secretary of the Nicaraguan bishops' conference.

An attack July 14 at the nearby National Autonomous University of Nicaragua campus in Managua left two students dead and injured 15 more. Some of the fleeing protesters sought shelter in Divine Mercy Church, where the injured were being treated, but armed assailants stopped ambulances from reaching the church.

A Washington Post reporter was among those trapped in the parish, which churchmen said had been "profaned," and pictures posted to social media showed the church had been pockmarked by bullets.

"They are shooting at a church," Father Erick Alvarado Cole, a pastor at the parish, told The Washington Post. "The government says it respects human rights. Is this respecting human rights?"

On July 9, Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes Solorzano of Managua and his auxiliary, Bishop Silvio Jose Baez, and Archbishop Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag, the apostolic nuncio, were among clergy from Managua pummeled as they attempted to protect St. Sebastian Basilica in the city of Diriamba from an incursion by a pro-government mob. Bishop Baez and at least one other priest were injured. Journalists also were attacked and had cameras and other equipment stolen.

"In recent days, the repression and violence carried out by the pro-government paramilitaries against the people who protest civically has gotten worse. ... Today, like never before, human rights are being violated in Nicaragua," the bishops' July 14 statement said. "Members of the national dialogue" -- convened by the bishops' conference -- "defenders of human rights and independent media have been the objects of campaigns of defamation by the government."

Human rights groups put the death toll in Nicaragua at more than 350 since April 18, when protests erupted over reforms to the Central American country's social security system. Protests later demanded the ouster of President Daniel Ortega, who has dismissed proposals for early elections and repressed protests with violence.

Churches in Nicaragua have served as centers for treating the wounded and allowing the work of human rights groups. Priests toll church bells to warn local populations of the police and paramilitaries arriving.

Covenant House, known as Casa Alianza in Latin America, issued an urgent call for donations, saying staff were forced to sleep in the shelters due to security concerns and its homes had to buy months of supplies such as food and medicines in advance. Casa Alianza works with homeless and trafficked children.

In their statement, the bishops said brokering a deal through dialogue has proved difficult.

"We have been witnesses to a lack of political will of the government to dialogue in a sincere way and look for real processes that will lead us to a true democracy" and not carrying out "the urgent dismantling of the armed pro-government forces," the bishops' statement said. "Government representatives have twisted the principal objective for which the national dialogue was established."

A Catholic analyst in Nicaragua, who preferred not to be named for security reasons, said the dialogue has been interpreted as an attempt by Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, to buy time. The bishops also run the risk of being blamed for the collapse of the talks if they withdraw as mediators, the analyst said.

"(The government) and vice president have been appropriating religious language for some time and now are saying the government is doing God's work," the analyst told CNS.

The bishops said they would continue working as mediators, but their role goes beyond sitting at the negotiating table.

"Given the prophetic dimension of our ministry we have seen the urgency of going to the places of conflict to defend the lives of the defenseless, to bring comfort to the victims and mediate with the goal of a peaceful solution to the situation," the bishops said. "The Nicaraguan church will continue to use all of the means it is able to. Our mission as pastors and prophets does not contradict our role as mediators and witnesses given that what we seek is peace and justice as Nicaraguans."

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Tennessee's Catholic bishops urge governor to halt upcoming executions

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jed DeKalb, courtesy State of Tennessee

By Theresa Laurence

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (CNS) -- Bishops J. Mark Spalding of Nashville, Richard F. Stika of Knoxville and Martin D. Holley of Memphis have written to Gov. Bill Haslam urging him to "use your authority as governor to put an end to the fast-track executions planned" in the state of Tennessee in the upcoming months.

"It is within your power to establish your legacy as a governor of Tennessee who did not preside over an execution on your watch," the state's three Catholic bishops wrote.

The last person to be put to death by lethal injection in Tennessee was Cecil Johnson in 2009, when Phil Bredesen was governor. The state has carried out a total of six executions since 1976, five of those during Bredesen's tenure.

In Tennessee, the governor has sole authority to grant clemency to death-row inmates.

There are currently 62 men and one woman on Tennessee's death row.

The next man scheduled to be executed by the state is Billy Ray Irick Aug. 9. Irick, 59, who has a history of serious mental illness, was convicted in 1986 of the rape and murder of a 7-year-old Knox County girl named Paula Dyer, and has been on death row for more than three decades.

In their letter to Haslam, the bishops called for mercy, including for those who have committed terrible crimes. "We join with many other religious denominations in firm opposition to the execution of even those convicted of heinous crimes," they wrote.

The bishops thanked Haslam for meeting with them in the past, and for his willingness to learn more about the Catholic Church's opposition to capital punishment and the foundations of that teaching.

In their letter, the bishops recalled the story of St. John Paul II's visit to St. Louis in 1999, when he called for an end to the death penalty as both cruel and unnecessary. The pope said, "It is simply not necessary as the only means to protect society while still providing a just punishment for those who break civil laws," the bishops wrote in their letter. "Rather than serving as a path to justice, the death penalty contributes to the growing disrespect for human life."

The bishops' letter to the governor comes at the same time that a trial begins over Tennessee's new lethal injection protocol. More than 30 death-row inmates filed suit against the state, contending that the new three-drug combination -- midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride -- used in the lethal-injection protocol amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

Tennessee has not used this three-drug cocktail to carry out an execution before, but similar or identical drug combinations were used in botched executions in other states, according to the death-row inmates' attorneys.

The lethal-injection drug trial began July 9. With that underway and Irick's execution date set for Aug. 9, the state's capital punishment system is facing renewed scrutiny. The state's Catholic bishops are not the only ones voicing their opposition to it. 

The national organization Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty earlier this month named Nashville resident Hannah Cox its new national manager and is expanding its coalition of conservative lawmakers and constituents who are "questioning whether capital punishment is consistent with conservative principles and values due to the system's inefficiency, inequity and inaccuracy."

Cox, formerly with the Beacon Center of Tennessee, a free-market think tank, said in a statement, "Ending the death penalty aligns perfectly with my conservative beliefs because it eliminates the risk of executing innocent people, reduces costs to taxpayers, and is consistent with valuing life."

Three men have been released from Tennessee's death row in recent years after they were proven innocent. Paul House, who was exonerated by DNA evidence after spending 22 years on death row, has written an open petition to ask the state not to pursue Irick's execution or any execution, noting the risk of executing an innocent person.

In June, the American Bar Association released a study titled "Potential Cost-Savings of a Severe Mental Illness Exclusion from the Death Penalty: An Analysis of Tennessee Data," which noted that the state could save an estimated $1.4 million to $1.8 million per year by adopting a ban on capital punishment for defendants with severe mental illness.

The report stated that if defendants with severe mental illness were excluded from the death penalty, this "could result in cost savings because a subset of individuals could face expensive capital prosecutions and decades of appeals would become ineligible" for capital punishment.

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Laurence is a staff writer for the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Diocese of Nashville.

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

A good Christian shares the Gospel, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Fabio Frustaci, EPA

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- All Christians are called to be missionaries, concerned more with sharing the Gospel than with earning money or even with being successful at winning converts, Pope Francis said.

"A baptized person who does not feel the need to proclaim the Gospel, to announce Christ, is not a good Christian," the pope said July 15 before reciting the Angelus prayer with an estimated 15,000 people gathered in St. Peter's Square.

Pope Francis was commenting on the day's Gospel reading, which told about how Jesus sent the disciples out two-by-two to preach and to heal in his name.

"It was a kind of apprenticeship for what they would be called to do with the power of the Holy Spirit after the resurrection of the Lord," the pope explained.

Speaking only in the name of Jesus, he said, "the apostles had nothing of their own to proclaim and none of their own abilities to demonstrate, but they spoke and acted as emissaries, as messengers of Jesus."

"This Gospel episode concerns us, too, and not only priests, but all the baptized, who are called to witness to the Gospel of Christ in all the situations of life," the pope said.

Christians fulfill their mission, he said, when their proclamation is motivated only by love for and obedience to Christ and when the only message they share is Christ's.

In the reading from St. Mark's Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples "to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick -- no food, no sack, no money in their belts."

The poverty and simplicity of lifestyle Jesus asks for, the pope said, were meant to make the disciples of yesterday and today "free and light."

Jesus, he said, calls his disciples to set out as "messengers of the kingdom of God, not powerful managers, not unmovable functionaries (and) not stars on tour."

Although all the baptized are sent out on mission by Christ, they go with no guarantee of success, the pope said. "This, too, is poverty: the experience of failure."

Pope Francis prayed that Mary, "the first disciple and missionary of the word of God, would help us bear the message of the Gospel in the world with a humble and radiant exultation that goes beyond every refusal, misunderstanding or tribulation."

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

If it is broke, fix it: Ideas on reshaping U.S. immigration policy

IMAGE: CNS photo/Lucas Jackson, Reuters

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In 2008, Kenan Thompson of "Saturday Night Live" unveiled a "financial expert" character named Oscar Rogers on the "Weekend Update" segment. His advice on the economy, shouted loudly and often as the nation was careening into the Great Recession, was "Fix it!"

That Oscar Rogers mantra would suit U.S. immigration policy as well, as people and advocates complain about a broken immigration system.

The U.S. bishops in 2003 published a pastoral letter, "Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope," which listed principles of reforming U.S. immigration policy. But 15 years later, how do those principles translate into concrete legislative proposals?

"This year, we've seen the failure to pass on both sides of Congress larger-scale bills that have fixes for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), most recently here in the House," said Ashley Feasley, director of policy for Migration and Refugee Services at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington. 

"(The month of) June had a couple of votes that they didn't pass and (got) broken down from bipartisan negotiations at the beginning of June to negotiations within the Republican Party," which controls the White House and both houses of Congress, Feasley added. "The bishops opposed both bills, which failed to pass."

Currently, according to Feasley, "there's a lot of focus on the family separation issue and the family detention issue" after the Trump administration's "zero-tolerance" on border crossers caused an uproar once it was put into effect this spring.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order to reunite families, but not all children who were separated from parents have been reunited with them.

Feasley described one aspect of the immigration system's brokenness: "Frankly, there has been an overreliance on administrative methods because there's been an absence of consensus in Congress on passing legislation on the immigration issues that need to be solved."

DACA, she said, is "a perfect example. The DREAM Act was first introduced in 2001 and it has been brought up in several iterations, either by itself or part of a comprehensive bill, on the House and on the Senate side. The Obama administration initiated the DACA program in 2012, and the Trump administration ended the program in 2017, and now there's judicial challenges."

One suit, brought by Texas and several Southern states, is challenging DACA's legality. If a federal court agrees with Texas, that could prompt a legislative fix, Feasley said. But that is "reactive to the court case," she added, and "there's not a lot of proactive action going on now." Depending on the midterm elections, Feasley said, a lame-duck session could see some immigration bills brought to the floor.

"We strongly believe that family-based immigration is one of the most important aspects. Then, after that, humanitarian issues. Protection for people seeking asylum, protection for people when things happen, the TPS (Temporary Protected Status)," said Jeanne Atkinson, executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network.

"We need to legalize the people who are here. We're talking about people undergoing background checks, paying fines and stepping forward. That is a component," Atkinson said.

"We need to look at the system that we have and say, 'What numbers, what level of immigration works for our country?'" she added. "Our system hasn't been reformed in decades. So what was set up all those years ago doesn't serve our country well."

There are labor aspects to immigration, she noted. Currently, stricter enforcement coupled with low unemployment has resulted in fewer workers coming from other countries to perform available jobs. "It needs to be looked at and evaluated," Atkinson said. "And you need to protect those people who are brought to this country to work: seasonal workers, but also the professional visas."

Atkinson said, "Many people are paying taxes anyway, but (legal status means) getting better jobs and paying more in taxes. People who couldn't pay taxes or knew how to pay taxes are paying taxes. So there are financial benefits for the country." Those benefits, she added, "will pay off for decades in the future."

Atkinson said the United States needs to examine the "root causes" of immigration. "The vast majority of people want to stay where they are. Most people want to be in a place where they know the place, they know the culture, they know the language" but they leave due to gang violence, domestic violence or dire poverty.

She admitted there would be a high price tag to comprehensive immigration reform. But border enforcement, which Atkinson pegged at $22 billion a year, is "more than every other federal law enforcement as well as state employment protection agencies. We're already spending massive amounts of money" -- and still more "if you tried to deport all the people who have unauthorized status."

Moreover, "there's a very big price tag for inaction," Atkinson said, the latest item on that receipt being "the psychological impact" of family separation and deportation of parents while their children are U.S. citizens.

"We need to change the law. It's a poor system," declared Sister Mary Ellen Lacy, a Daughter of Charity and immigration lawyer who is currently a grass-roots mobilization specialist for Network, the nun-run Catholic social justice lobby.

In her immigration law practice, she helped impoverished clients in Texas, Alabama and the New York City borough of Brooklyn. "They come because they want to live, and then they end up in the shadows. Some of them have been in here for 20 years," Sister Lacy said. "And then they get picked up, and then they come to you. A woman's husband doesn't come home. And she comes looking for him. Was he in a raid?"

The fees, forms and time lags in following immigration law are "punitive," she added. "Some people just wanted to bring their family members over. Or they fell in love, wanted to get married, and do it legally, and it took years. ... It's terrible when someone tells you, 'We don't think your marriage is legal,'" Sister Lacy said. "We have celebrities and politicians who get married several times over and no one questions their bona fides."

Sister Lacy criticized the Trump administration actions that had "eliminated all the TPS. Most of the countries that we've granted TPS status to we've eliminated in the past year. People who've made a life for themselves 10, 20, 30 years. Now we're saying you've got to go back to a country you don't know. And they were here -- with permission! These hardship cases are hard to see."

Comprehensive immigration reform, "loosely quoting (House Speaker) Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) -- is the best economic package we could ever produce," Sister Lacy said. "I agree with Paul Ryan. But it's been a long time since he said that," putting that quote in 2012, when he was Mitt Romney's GOP running mate on the party's presidential ticket.

Sister Lacy has a six-point plan to fix U.S. immigration policy. It largely mirrors what the bishops sought in 2003.

Then, the bishops asked for an earned legalization program; a worker program to allow foreign-born workers to enter the United States safely; an increase in the number of family visa and a reduction in family reunification waiting times; restoring due process rights taken away by a 1996 immigration bill and eliminating the three- and 10-year re-entry bars which also were part of that law; "targeted proportional and humane" enforcement measures; and addressing the root causes of migration.

The bishops recognized a sovereign nation's right to control and protect its borders, but opposed "some of the policies and tactics that our government has employed to meet this ... responsibility."

Sister Lacy's points are prioritizing family unity; creating a process that leads to legal status and citizenship; improving access to the legal immigration system; strengthening the country's legal asylum processes and refugee resettlement program; protecting all workers and reducing exploitation; and addressing the root causes of migration.

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Follow Twitter: @MeMarkPattison

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Charities' CEO visits border, hears immigrants' stories of fleeing danger

IMAGE: CNS photo/Michael Brown, Catholic Outlook

By Michael Brown

NOGALES, Mexico (CNS) -- Dominican Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, grew emotional talking about the harrowing stories she heard from immigrants about the life they left behind to seek refuge in the United States.

"The suffering they are going through is unimaginable," she said after listening to stories from families waiting to apply for asylum at the international border at Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora.

Sister Markham, who recently completed a tour of a detention facility for children in McAllen, Texas, said she wanted to visit Nogales to get the whole story behind the current public debate over immigration.

"Their stories," she said, pausing to compose herself. "They are running for their lives. Literally, they left at gunpoint."

She was joined July 11 at the Nogales Port of Entry by Jesuit Father Sean Carroll, executive director of the Kino Border Initiative, an organization that assists mostly families who have been sent back to Mexico following deportation proceedings.

With the large influx of refugees seeking to enter the U.S., Father Carroll, along with other religious-based and nonprofit agencies in Nogales, Arizona, have set up temporary shelters and a check-in system for families seeking to enter the U.S. and to apply for asylum.

Were it not for those shelters, families would have to wait in line at the port of entry in the humidity and heat of 100-plus degrees for about two weeks, Father Carroll told Catholic Outlook, newspaper of the Diocese of Tucson, Arizona.

The first family Sister Markham met included 11 members, four of whom were young children. They left the Mexican state of Guerrero, one of the poorest and least safe areas in the country.

Father Carroll interpreted their story, explaining how their lives had been threatened by a local political party during the recent presidential election. At the border, their biggest fear is that the father and uncle would be detained, the children taken from them, and the women deported. Knowing that risk, they waited anyway because "they were threatened with death" in their hometown, Sister Markham said.

While such conditions might easily fall into the classic example of political asylum, Peg Harmon, who is executive director of Catholic Community Services in the Diocese of Tucson and has been a Catholic Charities USA board member, acknowledged that under the current vetting system, there were no guarantees.

Another family -- two women and two young children -- also spoke to Sister Markham. One woman held a young girl close to her who appeared to be no older than 9 and was crying inconsolably. The mother, also from Guerrero, spoke of her husband being taken and her daughter's life being threatened. She was with another woman, with a son about same age. They had tried to cross into the U.S. in January but were stopped and deported in February. Under current U.S. policy, they would not be eligible to enter the country because of the previous attempt, but have no other place to go.

Sister Maria Engracia Robles Robles, a Missionary Sister of the Eucharist, works at a "comedor" -- a combined soup kitchen and food pantry -- run by Kino Border Initiative in Nogales, Sonora. As she listened to the families' stories, she used her cellphone to put their names on the list of applicants waiting to file for asylum.

Several people passing the families as they entered the U.S. from Mexico offered them candy and money. Local charities also supplied blankets and water bottles, kept in large coolers, at the border station.

Following her meeting with the families, Sister Markham said there were two things she hoped to accomplish when she returns to her organization's national headquarters outside Washington.

"We need to call all believers to prayer, and we have to educate people who don't have the opportunity to come here," she said.

Sister Markham said that visiting Nogales was a completely different experience from her trip to visit the juveniles held in Texas. In McAllen, "they are already going through the process; there the process is very slow."

"Here, it is very painful to hear the stories, to know how people have suffered to get this far, especially the children," she said. "It's emotionally overwhelming. It's more painful than I imagined."

The next day in Tucson, Sister Markham was joined by Bishop Edward J. Weisenburger of Tucson at Casa Alitas, a family shelter run by Catholic Community Services. Casa Alitas receives families in transition from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, after being processed from the border and immigration court.

Early July 12, two families were preparing to leave Casa Alitas and another four were being placed there. When the bishop and Sister Markham arrived, Olga, a Honduran refugee, was preparing to leave with her two children to board a bus for a three-day trip to stay with family in Baltimore.

A few hours later, Valentia, a Mexican native, was leaving with her two children for her own cross-country trip to a community in New Jersey. Soon the Casa Alitas staff welcomed new families -- three from Brazil and one from Mexico -- brought to the facility by ICE.

Sister Markham visited the home the night before and had a chance to spend some time with the departing families. During her morning visit, she gave hugs and smiles to the familiar faces, and later, interviews with local media who arrived to document the visit.

"Our goal is to do everything we can to see that these families are treated with dignity," she told one reporter.

A glance around the now-crowded living area revealed weary women and children, some of whom looked ready for a nap. Some needed clothing, which was available from a supply room. The smell of a hot breakfast began to waft out of the kitchen where signs and wipe boards and children's drawings created a homey atmosphere.

Bishop Weisenburger noted that "20 percent of the Gospels is about taking care of the poor and needy." Taking care of immigrants and refugees is important for those who want "to really live the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to call ourselves Christian."

As she began to describe her experience from the day before, Sister Markham again paused to fight back tears after talking about "the babies sitting at the border in the heat."

"I have a big heart," she explained, smiling again.

Before leaving to catch her flight back east, Sister Markham showered praise upon the more than half dozen workers and volunteers gathered at Casa Alitas as new families arrived.  "I am just amazed at the staff and the level of attention they give to the families here."

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Brown is managing editor of Catholic Outlook, newspaper of the Diocese of Tucson.

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

After World War I, church changed mission approach, cardinal says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- World War I and its aftermath changed the map of Europe, but also dismantled the notion of the "state church" in a way that forced the Catholic Church to discover again the authentic meaning of mission, said Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

After the war, Pope Benedict XV "was prompt in indicating how the missionary world must change paths, abandoning the colonial ideology in which it had been lulled and promoting autonomy, independence and ecclesial self-governance in all the areas outside Europe," said the Vatican secretary of state.

Speaking at a conference July 12 anticipating the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, Cardinal Parolin looked at the wide-ranging impact of the war and its aftermath on the political map of Europe, and how that affected the fates of peoples in the Middle East and in the countries of what would become the Soviet Union.

But he also spoke about Pope Benedict's 1919 apostolic letter "Maximum Illud" on the church's missionary activity. In conjunction with document's centenary, Pope Francis has asked all Catholics to celebrate a special "missionary month" in October 2019.

Announcing the special commemoration, Pope Francis had said, "In 1919, in the wake of a tragic global conflict that he himself called a 'useless slaughter,' the pope recognized the need for a more evangelical approach to missionary work in the world, so that it would be purified of any colonial overtones and kept far away from the nationalistic and expansionistic aims that had proved so disastrous."

"May the approaching centenary of that letter serve as an incentive to combat the recurring temptation lurking beneath every form of ecclesial introversion, self-referential retreat into comfort zones, pastoral pessimism and sterile nostalgia for the past," Pope Francis said. "Instead, may we be open to the joyful newness of the Gospel."

World War I marked the end of the "state church," which was particularly strong in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Cardinal Parolin said in his lecture in the northern Italian city of Aquileia. The government had power in the appointment of bishops and controlled the seminaries and a variety of religious institutions, all of which fed into a mentality that emphasized national belonging over the universality of the Catholic faith, the cardinal said.

"Maximum Illud," he said, was "the manifesto of a missionary and political revolution whose importance still has not been recognized as it deserves."

"In the encyclical," the cardinal said, "the pope ordered European missionaries to free themselves of nationalism, of the idea of European superiority over the peoples then seen as subordinate, to promote local languages rather than the language of the conquerors, (and) to train and to value indigenous clergy so that 'one day they will be able to take up the spiritual leadership of their people.'"

Pope Benedict knew it would take some time to change mentalities and ensure the proper training of local clergy in view of their leadership of their communities, Cardinal Parolin said. But he also knew that the church had to act both out of respect for the God-given dignity of all peoples and cultures as well as because "the Catholic Church also would have been shaken by the imminent end of colonial structures."

Pope Pius XI continued the path dictated by Pope Benedict, he said, and in the 1930s nominated the first local Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese and African bishops.

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Update: Catholic organizations playing role in reunification of children

IMAGE: CNS photo/Carlos Barria, Reuters

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Some of migrant children under age 5 separated from their families by the government were reunited with loved ones July 9 with help from Catholic organizations.

About two dozen families in all were brought back together on that date with help from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Migration and Refugee Services, Catholic Charities USA and a network of other agencies from around the country.

In all, the Catholic agencies will help reunite 55 families by mid-July and provide short-term care, such as food and shelter, said Bill Canny, executive director of MRS.

"What we're trying to do is give people who have had a dose of bad, we're trying to give them a dose of good," said Canny in a July 12 interview with Catholic News Service. 

"Protection of families is a foundational element of Catholic social teaching and this moment calls on all people of goodwill to lend a hand to reunite these children with their parents," said a joint statement issued the same day by MRS and Catholic Charities USA.

The children and families were earlier separated by a policy implemented by the Trump administration at the U.S.-Mexico border, seeking to deter illegal border crossings. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in May that people risking improper entry would be subject to having their children taken away, if caught.

The Catholic Church, along with much of the country, condemned the policy and has been advocating for the families' reunification. After much public outcry and widespread condemnation of the family separation policy, President Donald Trump signed an executive order June 20 saying families would no longer be separated but may be detained together during the process of prosecution and deportation at the border.

The U.S. bishops have expressed concerns with that possibility, asking for alternatives to detention but seemed intent on lessening the damage already done.

Trump administration officials said that 2,342 children had been separated from 2,206 parents at the U.S.-Mexico border between May 5 and June 9 as part of the previous policy.

The administration was given until July 10 to reunite children under 5 with their families, but administration officials had said July 9 that they would not be able to meet that deadline. The administration has until July 26 to reunite all of the more than 2,000 children who have been separated from parents.

Canny said the organizations are trying to raise funds for the effort and anyone wanting to help can donate to Catholic Charities USA, www.catholiccharitiesusa.org.

The families of children under 5 that the Catholic organizations helped were reunited at government facilities and then transferred into the care of Catholic Charities organizations around the country, as well as the Annunciation House in the El Paso, Texas/Juarez, Mexico, border region.

They will be assisted with follow-up care for two months as many will leave the facilities and head toward a destination with family or a sponsor somewhere in the U.S.

Canny said the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as well as the Office of Refugee Resettlement reached out to the Catholic organizations, as well as the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service in early July to help with the reunifications.

"They know we are able to tap into a vast Catholic network across the country, which proves valuable for humanitarian and disaster response," he said.

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Papers, chafing under weight of newsprint tariffs, seek relief

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Newspapers of every type, Catholic papers included, are seeking relief from the U.S. government after six months of increased costs due to tariffs on imported Canadian newsprint.

The Catholic Press Association, which includes English-speaking Canada, is a member of the STOPP Coalition, which has pressed the Commerce Department for relief. STOPP is an acronym for Stop Tariffs on Printers and Publishers.

Price increases due to the tariffs have socked the Pittsburgh Catholic three times already this year, according to Carmella Weismantle, advertising director and business manager. "And we've been told more are coming," she said.

The newsprint tariff is different from the tariffs imposed by the Trump administration on goods produced elsewhere, most notably China. In the newsprint situation, a U.S. company, NORPAC, which owns a mill in Washington state, had complained that Canada was unfairly subsidizing its newsprint production. The U.S. Department of Commerce agreed, and tariffs were first slapped onto newsprint imports in January.

Tim Walter, CPA executive director, said the CPA board had agreed to join STOPP after CPA president Joe Towalski, editor of The Visitor, newspaper of the Diocese of St. Cloud, Minnesota, had recommended it. Walter added that Towalski noted the CPA had joined the alliance during this year's Catholic Media Convention in June, although no questions were raised about the issue afterward.

"There was no financial commitment involved" in joining STOPP, Walter told Catholic News Service in a July 12 telephone interview. "They didn't ask us to participate in meetings at this point in time. They just asked us to join the alliance."

Other members of STOPP include a number of regional press organizations as well as national groups like the News Media Alliance, the American Society of News Editors, the Association of Alternative Newsmedia and the Association of American Publishers. Printers, paper makers and even the National Grocers Association, whose members' ads appear in newspapers nationwide, are in the coalition.

Walter noted that the CPA's monthly newspaper, The Catholic Journalist, has been affected by the tariff. "It's traditional we would have a printer do our work pro bono, but because of the increase in print costs and newsprint costs, they're asking us to pay the costs of newsprint for the first time in many years," he said.

"We were warned" about future increases, Weismantle said. "We knew that this was coming down the pike. And our printer told us, 'We have no alternative but to pass it on to our customers.' I mean, what are they supposed to do?"

Mark Cohen, president of the Pennsylvania News Media Association, was part of a group lobbying six Pennsylvania members of Congress in June. "They made it sound like they'd heard of it, but they didn't realize the calamity it would cause newspapers," Cohen told CNS July 11.

"We said, 'Look, you believe in jobs, obviously. ' You believe in First Amendment rights. You believe in real news vs. fake news. You want good local reporters on the street. If you do, you need to be on our side. You can't have it both ways. ... You have to be with us.'"

Cohen said, "I think we have momentum. We were way behind the starting line on this and we were all caught off guard. Now that we're mobilized, we're getting the message out. We're getting attention. Of course, we can't predict how this goes."

One potential remedy is a hearing before the International Trade Commission to lift the tariff, which is supposed to last for five years with annual review. The commission conducted a hearing July 7 on the tariff and is slated to vote on it Aug. 28, although its rationale, yea or nay, wouldn't be known until September, according to Paul Boyle, senior vice president of public policy for the news Media Alliance.

"Many newspapers have taken steps to cut the number of pages that they produce. Some have laid off workers, which is not a good situation," Boyle said. Cohen added some newspapers have reduced the number of days they print; the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette will now publish in print just five days a week.

Another remedy being pushed is the PRINT Act, introduced by Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Angus King, I-Maine. It has 24 Senate co-sponsors and 28 House co-sponsors. PRINT is an acronym for Protecting Rational Incentives in Newsprint Trade. The bill would suspend the tariff on Canadian newsprint and require the Commerce Department to review the economic health of the printing and publishing industries.

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Follow Pattison on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison

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Birth of an encyclical: Priest documents preparation of 'Humanae Vitae'

IMAGE: CNS files

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Documents in the Vatican Secret Archives and the archives of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith prove it was a "myth" that Blessed Paul VI largely set out on his own in writing "Humanae Vitae," the 1968 encyclical on married love and the regulation of births.

In anticipation of the encyclical's 50th anniversary, Pope Francis gave special access to the archives to Msgr. Gilfredo Marengo, a professor at Rome's Pontifical John Paul II Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences.

The results of his research were published in Italian in early July in the book, "The Birth of an Encyclical: 'Humanae Vitae' in the Light of the Vatican Archives."

In a note to reporters, Msgr. Marengo said his research revealed four little-known facts: Pope Paul approved an encyclical, "De Nascendae Prolis" ("On a Child's Birth"), in early May 1968, but was convinced by translators in the Vatican Secretariat of State that it still needed work; a new draft was corrected by hand by Pope Paul; on several occasions the future St. John Paul II sent suggestions, including an extensive treatment of the theme, but there is no evidence that they were used heavily in the final document; and Pope Paul asked the 199 bishops at the 1967 world Synod of Bishops to send him reflections on the theme of the regulation of births.

Msgr. Marengo said the request to the synod members was a surprise. It is not included in any report about the synod itself.

"The news about the desire of the pope to consult all the members of the synodal assembly is very important," he said, "because one of the accusations repeated most often after the publication of 'Humanae Vitae' was that the pope decided to act alone, in a manner that was not collegial."

The pope received only 25 responses in the period between Oct. 9, 1967, and May 31, 1968, Msgr. Marengo said. And, perhaps more surprising, of those, only seven bishops asked Pope Paul to repeat the Catholic Church's teaching against the use of contraceptives.

The other responses -- including a joint U.S. response from Cardinal Lawrence Shehan of Baltimore, Cardinal John Krol of Philadelphia, Archbishop John Dearden of Detroit and Bishop John Wright of Pittsburgh -- exhibited an openness to the use of artificial birth control in some circumstances, however "none of them would say that using the pill is a good thing," Msgr. Marengo told Catholic News Service.

Bishop Fulton J. Sheen of Rochester, New York, and Cardinal Karol Wojtyla of Krakow, Poland -- the future Pope John Paul II -- were among the seven bishops urging a reaffirmation of church teaching that using contraceptives was wrong.

"The pope never thought of proceeding alone, putting the collegial profile of the Petrine ministry in parentheses," Msgr. Marengo wrote.

But consultation is not the same thing as taking a vote. And bishops were not the only ones asked for their input. Long before the synod, and before Pope Paul was elected to lead the church, St. John XXIII had appointed a small committee to study the issue of the regulation of birth.

Pope Paul expanded the commission, which included several married couples. The commission's work ended in 1966 with the leaking of a report by the majority of members asserting artificial contraception was not intrinsically evil; minority reports, insisting contraception was morally wrong, were leaked in response.

After reading the commission reports and the bishops' input, Msgr. Marengo wrote, Pope Paul "found himself in a situation that was not easy. His judgment had matured, and he felt obliged in conscience to express it in virtue of his apostolic ministry, knowing well that going in that direction would place him at a predictable and painful distance from sectors of the church community that were not marginal."

In fact, less than a week after the encyclical was published, Pope Paul held a general audience and spoke about just how weighty the decision was. "Never before have we felt so heavily, as in this situation, the burden of our office," he said July 31, 1968. "We studied, read and discussed as much as we could; and we also prayed very much about it."

For Msgr. Marengo, the process of drafting "Humanae Vitae" cannot be understood without recognizing the changes in the church unleased by the Second Vatican Council, including on the theme of marriage and parenthood.

"Since the council in 'Gaudium et Spes' recognized 'responsible parenthood' as a value -- changing in a fundamental way the vision of marriage -- the idea of many was that it required a change in the church's sexual morality as well," he told CNS.

"The difficulty for Pope Paul VI was in how to explain that the use of contraceptives was not licit, but to do so in the light of an affirmation of responsible parenthood," he said.

The encyclical's emphasis on the "inseparable connection" between the "unitive and the procreative" qualities of married love, he said, marked a significant change in church teaching from before Vatican II; previously, the church taught that the primary purpose of marriage was for procreation.

Blessed Paul's personal work in rewriting the encyclical's "pastoral directives" also reflects the teaching of Vatican II, he said. Previously, "the magisterial task was to explain, and the pastoral task was to tell people to accept."

"'You must obey' was the classic pastoral approach," Msgr. Marengo said.

But, he said, "Pope Paul broke this schema, saying, 'I will explain the teaching and if you try to understand it, you will see that it is true and is what is best for you.'"

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.